Jazmine Sullivan On Starting Therapy And Making Epic Music Through Heartbreak And Sisterhood

Jazmine Sullivan crashed into our hearts, busting windows out of cars and with her latest project Heaux Tales she continues to channel her pain and anger into a fiery brand of vocal magic.

“I don’t want to believe that I’m my best when I’m heartbroken, but a lot of inspiration does come from heartbreak. And it hits a different way if you are going through things personally. Especially if that’s what you like to write about—and I do write a lot of heartbreak songs, because I’ve been in a lot of bad relationships that just gave me material,” she told Issa Rae during their interview for ESSENCE’s July/August issue cover story. 

The material became our 2021 hymnal when the label nudged the vocalist to release some of her inspiration to the masses. 

“Then there’s when the label says, “B–ch, it’s been six years. Just write a damn album!” 

Heaux Tales reflects the circumstances and crises of a number of Black girls but the EP began as Sullivan looking to share her own story. “Before now, I had really just been concerned about expressing myself and getting my story out there—and people have connected to that,” she told Rae. 

“But for this project, it was important for me to share the stories of the women I love and hold dear to my heart. I feel like they are just as banging and dynamic as me. And I want to give space and opportunity to women, period. I feel like we get caught up in thinking there’s ‘only one’ of us,” she continued. “There can only be one R&B superstar; there can only be one rap girl at a time. That’s not true. God was not stingy when He was giving out gifts. And you’re not the only person. There are many other women, especially Black women, who can do what you do. And let’s all create spaces for each other to get out there and do that.” 

“You said a word—something that’s so true for even my own experience,” replied Rae.

Sullivan described barriers to creating close relationship with her peers in the music industry. “I’m very private, myself, which I’m going to therapy for. I just started,” she said before receiving congratulations on the accomplishment from award-winning writer and producer. 

“It’s a milestone. Listen, I was about to cry. She’s was like, ‘Take a deep breath and give yourself some credit that you just started therapy.’ And I was like, ‘You know what? I will. I will give myself the benefit of the doubt.’ I’m slow to make new friends,” she revealed. 

Sullivan praised her collaborators, including Ari Lennox and H.E.R. who each appear on Heaux Tales tracks. “What I have seen so far with the young women who I got a chance to work with, they are so giving of their gifts. And I’m just so humbled by this new community of girls,” she said. 

The “A Girl Like Me” singer described the freedom to be herself granted to her therapy. “The first five minutes I was holding back tears, because I was like, ‘Wow, this is the first time I’m actually speaking about my feelings. And it’s not in a song. It doesn’t require notes. I don’t need to impress anybody with what it is that I’m actually doing. This is the first time,’” she said. “So I was holding back tears even doing that. But after that first five minutes, I was surprised by how much I was enjoying speaking to somebody, and somebody listening to me, and I didn’t have to perform to do it.” 

The Philadelphia native went to explain that she put some work in to find a therapist that could provide with the help she needed. “But finding the right therapist is a process—because I went to therapy one time, years ago, and I hated the experience, and I feel like it stopped me from going for a long time. And then I found this new lady, and it’s a totally different experience,” Sullivan said. 

“So you have to find the right person for you, that you actually want to open up to. But once you do that, a weight lifts off of you—just from speaking, just from telling your story. And that’s what Heaux Tales was. It’s like, ‘Tell it, girl. Tell it.’ Set yourself free.”

For more of this conversation between Jazmine Sullivan and Issa Rae, read the July/August 2021 issue of ESSENCE. Available on newsstands + digital platforms June 29.

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